Public Speaking: First Impressions

January 23rd, 2009 by Frank Damelio

We’ve all heard it before: “you have fifteen seconds to make your lasting first impression”. I’ve heard some experts say it’s only five seconds.  When you are public speaking, a first impression is vital if you want to earn their attention.

Before you utter a word, the audience beings forming their judgment.  While this is not a “dress for success” blog, a good guideline is to dress just a step above your audience.  Some experts say that you want to dress just like your audience so that they identify with you. Certainly, there are occasions in which the presenter needs to create a “team” perception and avoid an “authoritative” aura; but in most cases, it is a sign of respect to dress a step up.  

While the audience typically recognizes that they assess the way one dresses, they are often unaware of the fact that they subconsciously assess how one moves. Walking up to front and center at a moderate pace, then pausing for a few seconds will project that you are confident and comfortable with the audience. 

Now everyone is listening.  It’s time for your power opener. Avoid the common opener: “thank you, today I’m gunna talk about . . .” ; instead use one of these proven techniques that we teach in our public speaking training course:

Opening techniques: (Practical and powerful):


1)    Pose a question to the entire audience:  “How many of you are on schedule to retire worry free at your target retirement age?”  Please raise your hand if you are.

2)    Pose a question to an individual in the audience:  “Diane, have you developed your retirement plan on your own or do you work with a financial planning consultant?”

3)    Imagine:  I’d like everyone here to imagine the feeling of freedom and empowerment you would have if you knew that at your target age you could retire and maintain your current life style – worry free.

4)    Startling fact:  67% of Americans retiring in the next two decades are depending on Social Security benefits that are unlikely to materialize.

In a nutshell:  Dress one step up, walk moderately to front and center, pause, use a power opener and you will make a positive first impression when public speaking.

Also, please share you thoughts and experiences so that we may all learn!

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4 Responses to “Public Speaking: First Impressions”

  1. Nick Allain Says:

    I really love the Blog. It never hurts to get better at public speaking. In speaking for classes, the two I find that work best for me are Posing a Question to the group and using a Startling Fact. The easiest to pull off is the Startling Fact if I’m fighting nerves but Imagine is the ace I keep in my sleeve.

    In watching public speakers, the risk with Starling Fact is that the speaker may read the fact off a paper. Once someone nervous gets their eyes stuck to a paper they seldom pry themselves away. If you know the fact and start strong, I find that the audience responds well to the opening. As always, it seems that it boils down to rehearsing/practice.

    – Nick

  2. Frank Damelio Says:


    I am very happy to hear that you love the blog, and I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

    Agreed, once they start reading off a sheet, there may be no return. While I never suggest memorizing an entire speech word-for-word. I do think it’s a good idea to memorize rote your opener and closer.

  3. Target Intellect Blog » Public Speaking 19 Deadly Delivery Mistakes Says:

    […] 3) Launching immediately into your presentation. Instead, pause a moment and scan your audience and then deliver your power opener. […]

  4. Sarah Gershman Says:

    Great post. I especially appreciate your advice to start with the word “imagine.”

    I am a speech coach and just blogged about how to give a powerful opener – using the space shuttle as a metaphor.

    I welcome your feedback!


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